To protest privatizing school health programs, nurses and health assistants colored the Arundel Center red Monday with their shirts, signs and paper hearts.
A line of about 40 nurses chanted “support school health” Monday as they waved signs and cheered on honking cars.
Nurses said they’re happy with the county Health Department’s management and don’t want changes. Some are skeptical a private company can raise salaries and improve benefits.
Last month, County Executive Steve Schuh’s plans to explore private options for school health program management was made public, causing concern, confusion and speculation.
Schuh said his goal is to improve pay, benefits and career for the approximate 300 public school health staff, who work under the county Health Department.
County officials sent out requests for information to seven companies, including Baltimore Washington Medical Center and Anne Arundel Medical Center, according to an email from the county purchasing agent, Andrew Hime, to the county Health Officer, Dr. Jinlene Chan.
Hime said three companies responded to the request but declined to share more information. He said county officials will release the information once the evaluations are complete.
A spokesman for BWMC said hospital staff received the request and have not yet responded. AAMC did not respond to questions about the request in time.
In the 2014-15 school year, county students visited nurses’ offices more than 659,000 times with injuries, illnesses and medication needs. Nurses help students take insulin shots, relieve allergy symptoms, tend to cuts and scrapes and call emergency services. And as of this year, the nurses are certified to administer Narcan, which is used to counter overdoses of heroin or other opioids.
The county allocated about $12.4 million for the school health program this fiscal year. More than $10 million paid for salaries, according to the health department.
A registered nurse makes about $45,400, according to job postings on the county Health Department website. And a health assistant makes about $17,000.
Schuh’s spokesman Owen McEvoy said the administration hasn’t made any decision regarding the program. Higher compensation, improved career advancement and staff level maintenance are none-negotiable terms in any agreement to privatize the health program, McEvoy said.
Susan Comly, a nurse at Southern High School, said she doesn’t trust the Schuh administration because they did not involve nurses when requesting information from private companies.
“This was not transparent in any shape or form,” she said.
She also praised the county Health Department’s management of the program.
“We are a model program,” she said.
Kim Biggs, a health assistant at Magothy River Middle School, said she’s worried the transition period to a different management may harm the children who have chronic health problems.
“The continuity of care will be jeopardized,” she said.
Jane LeFavor, a nurse at Magothy River Middle, said nurses and their supervisors successfully manage a range of health problems, such as diabetics, children in wheelchairs, panic attacks, depression and anxiety.
“We feel anything else is going to be less,” she said about plans to explore other options.